CEO Chuck Robbins Takes On The Cloud – And Wins

Move over Chuck Norris because CEO Chuck Robbins isn’t taking second place at Cisco. In 2015, an Australian account executive earned himself some in-house fame when he celebrated Cisco’s newly announced CEO with a series of #ChuckFacts – a list of fun Twitter “facts” praising his Norris-like might. Robbins, who is well-known for his enthusiasm and easy-going humor on social media, joined in on the jokes and took a photo with his socially-engaged employee at a Cisco Live event.

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But despite the amiable exterior, Robbins is serious about the business of keeping Cisco at the top of the IT industry. Some predicted that the rise of cloud-based technology would end the company’s reign as software king but after some early stops and starts, they have emerged stronger than ever.

“I’ve joked that the irony of all ironies that that the cloud was supposed to be the death of Cisco five or six years ago. Now, it’s actually driving the company’s growth,” Chuck Robbins, CEO of Cisco, said in an interview.

There was a niche out there for Cisco and the Silicon Valley company got to work at finding out what that was in a very crowded cloud world. The key to their successful strategy, Robbins said, is the adoption of a multi-cloud approach.

Kip Compton, senior vice president of cloud platforms and solutions at Cisco summed up the early assumptions that challenged the industry: “People talked about the cloud in the beginning like they were just going to move to a different neighborhood. Like they could just move everything to one cloud, and it would be very simple.”

But the truth was that cloud solutions are usually offered as stream-lined, scalable services that offers certain functionality – depending on the market served. Due to the somewhat piecemeal nature of this latest tech trend, businesses often need to work with numerous providers. Robbins realized that Cisco could provide a much-needed bridge between all these services.

“Customers are consuming collaboration services from us and other service providers, and then they are consuming SaaS solutions from up to 200 different providers, so they find themselves trying to manage this entirely new network where traffic is flowing in nontraditional patterns,” Robbins said. “That requires a re-architecture of the infrastructure.”

Chuck Robbins was born in Georgia and educated at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill which is, incidentally, is one of the three oldest universities in the United States. He graduated with a degree in mathematical sciences and began his career as an application developer for North Carolina National Bank. He moved on to management positions at Bay Networks and Ascend Communications before joining Cisco in 1997 as an account manager.

In many ways, Robbins is a self-made man. He worked his way up through Cisco’s ranks until he assumed the mantle of the company’s top leadership position in 2015. As Senior Vice President of Worldwide Field Operations, Robbins play a key role in shaping the company’s strategies and investments. Amongst his biggest successes are the company’s partnership program and commercial business segment which represents 25 percent of Cisco’s total business.

In an interview, former CEO John Chambers praised Robbins’ abilities to make things happen. “Today’s pace of change ins exponential. Every company, city and country is becoming digital, navigating disruptive markets, and Cisco’s role in the digital transformation has never been more important,” Chambers said. “Chuck is unique in his ability to translate vision and strategy into world-class execution, bringing together teams and ecosystems to drive results.”

Outside of Cisco, Robbins serves on the Board of Directors for BlackRock and is Chairman of the US-Japan Business Council. He is also a member of the International Business Council for World Economic Forum and of the International Council for the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University. When he is not at work, Robbins is married with four children and cheers for the UNC Tarheels.